18 October 2003: Honestly, this was one of the worst days I've had in a long time. And the President was only on the ground for 8 hours.
It was too long, nerve-racking, so hot and there was so little reward for all the trials of keeping 3 kids in line all day at something they didn't comprehend or have much interest in. I can't blame them, I thought there were be an emotional reward for me "Wow, I got to meet the President" but I think even if I'd sat down and had afternoon tea with him, I wouldn't have felt it and it wasn't even close to that. It really was gobs of hours waiting for a 5 minute speech and not even a handshake.
We arrived at the school shortly after 9 because the bus was leaving at 10:30 for the palace and Katherine was going her separate way with 9 other schoolmates. Originally it was for a story with Laura Bush, it ended up being the 10 American kids standing outside the palace waving flags, then going home while gobs of Filipino kids heard the story and told one of their own, then did songs and gave gifts, etc. The whole idea of American kids being there came up last week. If I'd have known that they were basically going to be cast aside, I wouldn't have jumped on the idea for her to "meet the First Lady" when in fact, they weren't going to the story read and were just going to be hot and sweaty and standing outside for hours for a 5 minute thing like the rest of us.
We arrived at the school early and we're waiting and waiting and waiting. The shuttle to the Embassy (from Seafront) for the rest of us was leaving at 10:30 as well so I -really- needed to get Katherine on the bus with one of the accompanying adults before I could race out of there with the other 3 kids and make it to Seafront. 9:15, 9:30, 9:50, 10, 10:10... NO ONE ELSE IS THERE. We walked around the entire campus (except the 15 feet where the bus was actually waiting, behind a soccer bus the same size) and we walked around it again. It takes me 15 minutes to get to Seafront and I'm envisioning bad traffic, missing the shuttle and spending the day at home. 10:15, people show up, I wish Katherine luck, and race.
We make it on one of the last shuttles leaving Seafront. Get to the Embassy. Two hours to wait after successfully navigating 3 security checks. Well, aside from the point where the boys' metal shoelace holes set off the Secret Service gate. We were corraled on the back lawn of the Chancery.
They said we couldn't bring a bag to the meet&greet. But we could bring cameras, so I brought my camera in its case and my cell. Well, let me tell you that in 90 degrees for 3 hours, that doesn't cut it for kids 2, 3, and 5 years old. Thankfully they were doling out water and iced tea, but I didn't bring an umbrella for shade (lots of people did), or fans to cool off (lots of people did) or books to read or color in (people did, crossword puzzles too), or snacks (and this was from 10:30-1:30! some people did, of course, no not me).. because you know, to bring all the stuff that would have made the time bearable and still have 3 kids with me... I WOULD NEED A BAG. But no, no bags allowed.
So we saw the President. We saw the First Lady. As is the norm here, people rushed when it was time to shake hands. With the kids, there was NO WAY I was going to risk getting trampled and I had to think, was I really that desperate? Nope. But... I'd dragged the kids all the way there, we'd hung around for hours, and here was our chance. Well, not really. They shook hands for about 5 minutes. That's not enough for hundreds of people all clambering over each other.
I felt like it had been such a waste and I was sad for the kids, that I'd put them through this for no picture with him and not even a handshake. Bummer.
So we went to the school to wait for Katherine. While we were listening to Mrs. Bush read stories and sing songs at the palace, Katherine and her schoolmates arrived back on campus. Bummer.
The one bright spot. Yesterday I'd gone through all the mini-pages (children's page from the Washington Post, each on a specific topic) and came across one entitled "Meet Laura Bush". I pulled it out and gave it to Katherine to read on her bus ride, along with a printout on the President. So she had that with her when the school kids did get to shake hands with the President and Mrs. Bush. Katherine asked Mr. Bush where his wife was (That's my girl!) and there she was. Mrs. Bush saw the mini-page and said that if she had a pen, she'd sign it. Someone handed her a pen and voila... Katherine has an autographed newspaper that features the First Lady. Guess what is going up in a frame. (Of course, Katherine was told that she would be on TV on Channel 7 at 7 p.m. We don't get Channel 7 and CNN, BBC and all the local news channels we do get did not show the part of them greeting the folks outside Malacanang Palace. I cried.)
Of course, in addition to all this, the kids had been invited to a birthday party for a turning-one-year-old, being held at the Manila Polo Club. I debated going after the day we'd had, as it was supposed to start at 3:30, here it was going on 4 and Jonathon was still passed out after finally falling asleep at 2 p.m. in the car. But this is the Philippines and that means the Filipino clock. And the kids had put up with so much, a birthday party seemed like a very fair treat.
WHAT was I thinking?
If any of the photos turn out, that will tell you all you need to really know. A picture is worth a 1000 words, but I'll tell you what I can in much less.
The theme was "Finding Nemo". Envision a room decorated to the gills (pardon the pun) so that you feel like you're under the water. There are easily a couple hundred people. From the ceiling are hanging dozens of giant balloons (bigger than Jonathon) in the shapes of various fish and seahorses, with hundreds of white balloons mimicking bubbles. There is a stage with a guy shouting into a microphone and trying to keep everyone’s attention to play games. There is a section to the side with booths for fishing, ring toss, a sari-sari store where you buy things with play money designed with the child's picture and the game prizes are -goldfish- and we came home with a freaking DOZEN! They had a poodle show, a monkey show, Winnie-the-Pooh visited.
The other half of the room was food... an entire roast pig, a section of kid friendly foods (spaghetti, shish kebobs, French fries), an adult pasta station, batter-fried shrimp, Filipino favorites, sushi, a halo-halo station, an ice cream cart.... my stomach still aches thinking of it all.
And then there were the "loot bags". Full-sized plush Nemo backpacks and full-sized plastic/vinyl Nemo backpacks.
Oh yeah, the cake. Well, that just defies explanation.
We left at 6:30. That’s when I tried to get the VCR to record and even more, just find the right station. Couldn’t do it. Yes, I really did cry.
All this, and it became a terrible parenting day. Nothing felt like it was going right. Yes, Katherine made it to the palace and got the First Lady’s autograph. Yes, we made it to the Embassy to see the President, yes we made it home and the kids went to a birthday extravaganza. But it all felt wholly empty. And I spent the whole day worried that we wouldn’t make it to the checkpoint, then waiting for hours once we’d reached it for it to happen and be done. I developed a lovely headache, Nicholas’s over exhausted nitpicking of Jonathon and Jonathon’s subsequent screaming pushed me over the edge and all 5 of us ended up going to bed in a big screaming and crying jag.
Thank God this day is done.
(P.S. Ian made it home safe, skipped the Wheels Up party at the Chancery, and hopefully he’ll write a much more uplifting story of his day split between the airport and the Westin).